My deafness began 35 odd years ago when I parted my hair with a rifle bullet. Not deliberately of course, but carelessly, following the dictates of my empty belly and breakfast waiting on the table.
During the Rhodesian bush war, it was the norm on farms to carry weapons in case of terrorist attack. In my haste I had left my loaded G3 rifle next to my bed, then remembered, so went to make it safe.
Sitting on the bed, I followed the usual process: unlatching the magazine, I cleared the round in the breech, released the safety catch and leaning forward with the barrel next to my head, pulled the trigger to ease the tension on the spring.
The magazine had not properly detached and a second round had fed into the breech, unnoticed.
The detonation was very loud and I looked up to see a hole in the roof, then down as the farmer’s wife came screeching along the passage from her bath, thinking it was an attack!
I had felt the bullet blast through the hair on the left of my head and could only hear a loud ringing, which continued for some time. We had a nervous laugh and finished breakfast. The farmer’s lady got dressed.
My hearing returned gradually and I was a star turn at the club that day, demonstrating my ability to whistle through my ears. That was the beginning of my gradual deafness.
In about 2002, my children and wife’s complaints sent me to an audiologist and a set of hearing aids, which I used desultorily. They rusted up and were useless by 2010.
When we moved to Australia, I sought work in a call centre, so felt the need to get new aids – very expensive. But I lost the job and didn’t get another one, so petulantly ignored my hearing aids.
My friends with characteristic kindness speak up when addressing me, but I miss a lot of the asides and others’ chats; I also turn the TV sound way up. So I have started to use my hearing aids again.
They are not perfect despite 2 settings, and some sounds are piercingly sharp, while others remain indistinct. One of my children and two of my daughters’ partners mumble, another lisps, my wife and the other two children are soft spoken.
A much more serious aspect is that I am an easy sleeper, my wife is not. We have a new puppy who wails in the night. Sometimes our blue ring neck parakeet shrieks for seeds and I miss that too. It’s all tinnitus to me, but my wife gets up. I would if I heard, but I don’t. I have asked her to wake me to attend to our little princess.
I have tended to withdraw a wee bit of late, which has alarmed my children as I usually have plenty to say. It’s just that I am uncomfortable continuously seeking repetition.
Quite naturally people forget or find coherent conversation difficult … and so it goes.
As John Milton put it, it’s a mild yoke.
In compensation, I find that my appreciation of colour has increased immensely: sunrise, sunset, plumage, flowers and autumn leaves all make me gush – that really makes people smile at my foibles.
So that is why I am a wee bit quieter these days.